BLOOMINGTON — Fans who have cheered in past years for the area’s minor league sports teams have helped make those teams part of the fabric of the area.

After a 101-80 victory over the Rochester (N.Y.) RazorSharks Saturday, The Central Illinois Drive of the Premier Basketball League have added to that tapestry, winning not just the league’s championship title, but bringing residents the area’s first sports championship.

The victory makes the Drive the first of the Twin Cities’ four minor league sports franchises to secure a league championship.

The second game of a best-of-3 PBL Championship at U. S. Cellular Coliseum began as a tight affair, with Central Illinois (22-1) jumping out to a 7-2 lead on a deuce by guard Jemal Farmer followed by a deuce and a trey by forward Todd Peterson. Rochester countered with a deuce and trey by guard Jerice Crouch, tying the game at 7-all. But a trey by Drive guard Perry Petty at 8:38 in the quarter gave the Drive a 10-7, which they built on to with baskets by Farmer and guard Nathan Fuqua, giving the home crowd a thrill as the Drive led 16-11, with 4:29 left in the quarter.

As 2,469 fans watched, Rochester (19-4) roared back in the quarter’s closing minutes, adding two deuces while forward Todd McCoy added two free throws to tie the game at 17-all, with 24 seconds left.

A layup by Farmer just before the buzzer gave the Drive a 19-17 lead going into the second quarter.

That layup also could be seen as a light to a fuse, too, as Central Illinois opened the second quarter on an 8-0 run, beginning with a trey from forward Rodney Edgerson, followed by a deuce and free throw by Petty, and capped off by a deuce by Farmer. That barrage gave the Drive a 27-17 lead with 9:34 left in the quarter. Petty would add two more deuces to extend the Drive’s lead, 31-19 at the 7:48 mark.

From there, 6 foot-8 forward Aaron Williams became a one-man scoring attack for the RazorSharks, pocketing 14 points solo, including four free throws, to keep Rochester within 10, 39-29, with 4:23 left until halftime. Fuqua and former Illinois State player Anthony Slack contributed a basket each in the closing moments of the half, sending the Drive to the locker room with a 43-37 halftime lead.

Farmer opened the third quarter with three baskets to help push the Drive further in the lead, 51-41. Forward Todd Peterson added four consecutive threes – part of a 12-2 outpacing of Rochester that quarter – extending Central Illinois’ lead to 63-50 with 4:10 left in the third quarter. Former Bradley University player Daniel Ruffin added a trey of his own to give the Drive a 68-52 lead with two minutes left in the quarter, heading for the Drive’s 72-60 lead going into the fourth quarter.

The frustration Rochester felt during the fourth quarter manifested itself in a technical foul against RazorSharks’ Williams, who, after teammate Tasheed Carr was called for a foul, slammed the basketball to the hardwood, with 7:59 left in the contest. The Drive’s Peterson was sent to shoot the technical that resulted. But although Peterson missed the shot, Central Illinois owned an 81-62 lead.

Rochester had a brief 6-0 run after that featured two deuces from Crouch and a deuce from Carr, cutting the Drive’s lead, 81-68, at the 6:14 mark.

In the last minute of the game, Drive reserves got a chance to take to the hardwood, and guard Mike Malat made the most of it, adding a trey with 36.6 seconds left, giving the home team a 97-78 lead. Edgerson stole the ball during Rochester’s next possession and added a trey of his own, and was fouled, with 9.3 seconds left. He sank the subsequent free throw, leading to the final score.

“This is great!,” Peterson said. “This is what we have been working for all year – the goal we had – going into camp in December. This is just great.”

Farmer said after the game that “as I was about to take to the court in the third quarter, (Drive head coach) A. J. Guyton told me to stay aggressive…so that’s what I did.”

“We accomplished what we set out to do,” Guyton said afterward. “Our guys sacrificed and brought their natural talents together to make this a team effort, and that’s why we did so well.”

Guyton said he did not know until about six hours before the game’s 7p.m. tipoff that the Drive stood to become the first area minor league team to find itself on the verge of a championship. He joked that information “just added to the anxiety I had before the game.”

“But seriously,” he was quick to add, “This is a phenomenal accomplishment.”

Rochester head coach Rod Baker was not available for comment following the contest.

For power forward Anthony Slack, the Drive’s victory marked an end to a career, giving him the ability to go out on a high note. In March, the 6 foot-7, 220 pounder announced he was retiring as a player after this season. “It feels great to go out this way,” he said. “I played hard every day. I’m a very aggressive guy and I played hard every chance I got. I played my heart out every time I took to the court.”

His post-playing days will be spent mulling over coaching offers from a number of junior colleges, including the one he attended, Coffeyville Community College in Coffeyville, Kan.

“From the beginning, I thought this team would be winning the championship,” said Drive owner Jim Morris. “I really did. Except for our one loss, I thought we were going to go undefeated. I really did.” The Drive’s lone loss came against the Sauk Valley Predators on March 10, by one, 88-87.

“When we hired A.J., I asked him, ‘can you go undefeated?’,” Morris said. “He looked at me a little confused and confounded. I told him, ‘look, that’s our mission. I want to win every single game. Just win, Baby.’”

“I’m so proud of these guys,” Morris said. “They’re all just great.”

BLOOMINGTON– Todd Peterson probably never dreamed that, after playing basketball in Europefor the past couple years, that his first minor league assignment would put himless than 30 minutes away from his native Pekin.

And yet, thanks to a phone call fromA. J. Guyton, the one-time point guard and shooting guard with the ChicagoBulls in the early 2000s and now is head coach of the expansion CentralIllinois Drive of the Premier Basketball League, being just that close to homeand having family and friends come see him play is a reality.

Playing power forward for the Drive,an expansion team which debuted in the Premier Basketball League when PBL’sseason started earlier this month, Peterson said he is charged by his coachwith bringing “a defensive presence” on the court at the Drive’s home arena,U.S. Cellular Coliseum, as well as on the road.

“It’s my job to help create mistakes(made by the opposition),” Peterson explained.

A 2002 graduate of Pekin CommunityHigh School, before joining the Drive, Peterson last played basketball inBloomington-Normal at the Illinois High School Association Super-Sectionals,when the Dragons squared off against Springfield Lamphier High School.

Peterson spent the last two-and-a-half years playing the game in France and Switzerland.He started getting calls from and having conversations with Guyton and formerBradley University star and now teammate Daniel Ruffin, encouraging him to tryout for the Drive. Now that he is here, Peterson and Ruffin are helping draw infans. They are doing it not just by scoring, but by making personal connectionswith fans.

As of Jan. 29, the Drive is a perfect 6-0, and Peterson is tied for 30thin the league in scoring with 82 points, including 11 treys. The man he is tiedwith is former Illinois State University standout and current Chicago Muscleveteran Rico Hill. Defensively, Peterson’s

6 foot 8 inch frame has allowed him to be close to the top in blocks in theleague with 5 in six games, putting him 9th overall in the league inthat category.

Peterson said being able to earn his keep so close to home has been fun. “I’ve been outof the country for a long time, so (my family) couldn’t see a lot of my gamesunless they got on a plane, so, this is nice because they are right in thePekin-Peoria area, and all they have to do is get on (Interstate) 74. It’s justgreat news for them.”

Peterson’sbeing here has been great news for the Drive and their fans, too. His coachGuyton, is glad he was able to land the big forward, as well.

PBL is one of nearly a dozen minor leagues in basketball today. Even so, Petersonsaid playing in Bloomington with a PBL team can help get players noticed and movingfrom PBL to a league like the National Basketball Developmental League, thedevelopmental wing of NBA. For some, being in Bloomington could lead to playingin European leagues, too.

“Todd is definitely a leader,” Guyton said. “With his experience and where he’s beenin his career and how hard he works, and his I. Q. for the game, you have nochoice but to follow a guy like Todd and guys like (Ruffin)…guys who have donethis before.”

Even Peterson’s opponents are impressed with what he has shown so far. Hill, aforward and center for the Chicago Muscle, the team posing the closest threatto the Drive in the division, noted contributions Peterson was making on thecourt.

“He helped spread the floor,” Hill said after a season-opening loss here earlierthis month. “He’s probably their best shooter.”

Rim Shots: Headquartered in Chicago, PBL has nine teams playing in twodivisions….The cities PBL teams play in stretch from Rochester, N. Y. to St.Louis…..PBL plays a quick 20-game regular season followed by playoffs…….TheRochester Razorsharks are PBL’s current champions, having won the league titlefor three straight years….The Drive is owned by Bloomington businessman JimMorris, whose business ventures include operating two Sonic Drive-Inrestaurants in the Twin Cities….Morris recently purchased Bloomington’s IndoorFootball League franchise from developer Ed Brady. That franchise, the BloomingtonExtreme, which had existed from 2006-2011, will play in IFL under Morris’ownership with a new name starting in 2012: The Bloomington Edge.

By Steve Robinson | January 15, 2012 - 10:06 pm
Posted in Category: Central Illinois Drive, The Normalite

BLOOMINGTON — For the newest sports team in the Twin Cities, the weekend was ideal, even if the weather wasn’t.

Having already won one road game, the Central Illinois Drive of the Premier Basketball League made their home debut at U. S. Cellular Coliseum, sweeping two opponents in three days. Head coach A.J. Guyton’s crew topped off the weekend Jan. 14 beating the Chicago Muscle, 113-79, to remain undefeated at 3-0 in the Central Division.

A trio of threes in the first quarter of Saturday’s game by forward Todd Peterson helped the Drive jump to a fast 24-16 lead with 2:51 remaining in the first quarter, on their way to a 28-22 lead by the end of the quarter.

A halting defense by Guyton’s players and more threes – a pair by Rodney Edgerson and back-to-back unanswered treys by Josh Edmonds – helped push the Drive to a 58-36 halftime advantage.

Although able to contain Muscle center and former Illinois State University standout Rico Hill for most of the game, the Drive fouled Chicago guard Nick Livas sending him to the free throw line four separate times, including after fouling him in the process of shooting a three. Livas went a combined 8-for-9 as a result. The Drive led the game going into the fourth quarter, 82-58, impressing 1,558 fans in attendance.

Edgerson led all scorers in double figures with 25 points. He was followed in double figures by forward Tony Lewis with 20, and 16 points each from Peterson and fellow forward Jemal Farmer.

Hill led Chicago in scoring with 15 points. He was followed in double figures by guards Marcel Anderson and Livas, who each scored 12 points, followed by center Anthony Simmons’ 11.

“Overall, I think we responded to the challenge against a fine Chicago Muscle team,” Guyton said. But he prefaced that by saying, “the tough part is sustaining that energy. You know, being able to come out every night, ready to play that way.

“You have to be able to come out and have the same competitive energy, whether you’re playing the Chicago Muscle or a team whose record isn’t as good as the Chicago Muscle,” Guyton added. “That’s what I’m here to try to get them to understand – that it is about individual preparation as opposed to in college where scouting gets you ready for every individual game.”

“Peterson spreads the floor,” Hill said afterward. “He’s probably their best shooter.”

“Our rotations were slow,” St. Louis head coach Jim Condill said afterward. “We just didn’t shoot as well. We have a lot of changes we have to make. We have to score better.

“It’s hard to stop their penetration when they shoot so well from the parameter,” Condill added. “We were just bad…we’re off on our rotations. Central Illinois ran their offense a little better this time from when we saw them almost a week ago.”

Drive Win Very First Home Game: The visiting team known as the St. Louis Phoenix didn’t just have trouble getting past the team called The Drive. They had trouble with the drive on the roads getting to Bloomington. The Drive’s debut home game on Jan. 12 was delayed 30 minutes waiting for the Phoenix’s bus to get into town, hampered by winter weather conditions in southern Illinois.

What’s more, the Phoenix’s head coach, Floyd Irons, traveling separately from his team, did not show up until the start of the third quarter, the result of his vehicle getting two flat tires en route. Assistant coach Robert Buck filled in for Irons during a first half during which the visitors held the Drive at bay during the first half, leading 23-17 after one quarter. Central Illinois righted itself by halftime, outscoring their opponents in the second quarter, 29-18 on the way to owning a 46-41 halftime lead as they pressed toward a 106-87 victory, the first home win in franchise history.

Four Drive players hit double figures in the debut, led by former Bradley University standout Daniel Ruffin with 22 points. He was followed by 18 from forward Tony Lewis, 13 from forward Jemal Farmer, and 12 from the team’s newest member, Perry Petty.

St. Louis (0-1 following this game) was led in double figures by Dwayne Polk and Aaron Green, with 12 points each; 11 from Curtis Muse, Jr., and 10 from Brandon Roberson.

Central Illinois and St. Louis squared off in the season-opener for both teams on Jan. 8. The Drive won that contest, 125-95, for the franchise’s very first victory. But that win told Guyton something about the Phoenix he wanted his players to keep in mind for future contests. “I knew St. Louis would come out more aggressively,” Guyton said. “They’re men and they’ve got pride. They care about making shots, and they had an urgency to them.” St. Louis did not warm up prior to the start of the contest on Jan. 12. Guyton said when players don’t warm up, that creates the urgency.

Central Illinois (2-0 following this contest) had three scoring spurts in their first home game before 1,411 fans on opening night. Those runs included a 13-2 jaunt in the second quarter and 12-4 burst in the third quarter.

“You have to give St. Louis credit,” Guyton said. “They came down here despite the weather and came down here and made it competitive.”

“Our travel issues are no excuse for the loss,” Irons said. “Central Illinois is playing real well, like a veteran ball club, and we have a ways to go to catch up with the rest of the competition.”

Guyton’s club will spent their first full weekend of the season on the road this weekend, with away games at Columbus, Ind. to play the Indiana Diesels on Saturday; then to the northwest corner of the state to take on the Sauk Valley Predators on Sunday. Their next home game at U. S. Cellular Coliseum will be on Saturday, Jan. 28 to host Sauk Valley in a 1:05p.m. game.